Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lost ?

I live under a lot of different thoughts that help me in my walk. One thought I use to keep me on my toes is to think; if I am walking with Christ then to sin I have to leave His presence. I like to picture myself turning to Christ and saying excuse me but this is more important. The thought of those words leaving my mouth is just absurd, my walk with Jesus is far more important. This has helped me more times than I can count.  

While this thought helps me to detour the smaller offences I might do, it doesn’t stop them all.

I was out shopping with my daughter, it being a busy time of year she knows to stick by me so as not to get lost. We made our way through the department store looking at all the various Christmas items on sale and made a pass up and down at least every isle at least once. Not finding anything we decide to call it a day and make our way to the front exits. On our way out I noticed my daughter stopping to browse a counter of stuff we hadn’t yet explored. I don’t recall what it was that caught her eye but it wasn’t age appropriate for those she was supposed to be shopping for; she was eyeing stuff on her list. I say to her come on sweetie you don’t want to get lost, and I do the I am going to keep walking thing, but this did not detour her from just looking.

I stop and turn and as I am watching her now several feet out of her line of sight, I get this strange urge to tie what she is doing to my behavior. 

When we are making our way walking with the Lord how many times does He have to get our attention? How often are we distracted by the cares of this world and all of it's shiny new things? Have you ever felt the Lord say this isn’t for you keep walking? Have you ever felt Him call you away from something to suddenly having that I am so lost feeling? I never took my eyes off my daughter but if she had turned to not see me she would have panicked. If we know the things that displease God do we have a case against Him when we turn and we don’t see Him? Who lost who?

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

The Presents of God

I  have found the more I walk, the deeper my faith grows I am enjoying the Christmas season even less. Which I find extremely odd, this is a Christian Holiday isn’t it? But I am finding the very thing that drew me toward the Christmas season is now the very thing that drives me away. If the reason for celebrating Christmas is to celebrate the birth of our savior, how will we ever find Him in the blinding festive lights and ton of flashy tinsel? Maybe our savoir can found behind the three wise snowmen?

As this Holiday season comes barreling in with all of its new and improved gaudy wares I prayed to God for a way to reconnect with the true Christmas spirit. I realize a one man war waged against celebrating Christmas isn’t going to go over well, there are many who find joy in Christmas as it is. I mean no one says I have to get swept up in all the big traditional to do’s to truly enjoy this season. As I searched and prayed for meaning behind the joy of the season I think I found it in one word.

Did I do this right, did I buy a big enough turkey, are the lights bright enough, did I remember to say merry Christmas instead of happy Holidays?  Far too much for anyone to be stressed out about.  I think this year I want to concentrate on something much more meaningful. This can be given and received wrapped or unwrapped. It can take on the shape of anything and yet cannot be contained no matter how hard you try. It gives and it gives filling everyone it reaches with unending joy that can last a lifetime. The one and only gift we will ever need the one and only gift you can give to those who thought they had everything. One size fits most; no way this is a gift that fits all. No lines to wait in, no web surfing required no credit card needed. No more wondering did I get the right color or the right size. You won’t even need a gift receipt.

Instead of the usual Holiday rush and fuss to find the perfect Christmas presents I want to give and receive the presence of God. A little over two thousand years ago in the felids of Bethlehem a savoir was born. Wrapped in swaddled clothes lying in a manger a baby was born, the Son of God given to us with the presence of God inside. The only thing you and I will ever need as already been given, all I want for Christmas is the presence of God.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

All are Welcome

I consider myself a pretty easy going kind of person. Live and let live right, but the one thing I don’t like is when I feel forced to take a middle of the road kind of stance. First and foremost the middle of the road is a dangerous place to be even for an opinion. Second in my walk, my learning and growing to be a disciple of Jesus I believe when I can truly effectively reflect Christ in all that I do I won’t have to take a stance against anything. If my stance to is to reflect the truth of Christ like it should be everything else will fall away right.

With that being said churches all around the world are made up of people just like you and I. This is the church this is the steeple open it up and here are the people. You and I both know people are sinful and as such are imperfect. I want to say I have never been a part of anything that would be akin to barring anybody from entering our church. Clean unclean rich or poor never have I sat and pondered out loud how best to rid our churches of the unsaved.

I am not na├»ve I know people can be very unwelcoming over particular views and opinions. There are churches that preach hurtful sermons but those kind of churches run by those kind of people are far and few between. That is not the status quo for the churches I attend or would be privy to. That isn’t what I signed up for, did you? Was I absent the day we passed out pitchforks?  

So why is it every time I turn on the television or scroll across a couple newsites I see one community after another lighting their torches banging on church doors for us to let them in? Have you checked the door, we don’t have bouncers. Who’s barring anyone? 
The church is becoming more progressive than I can stomach at times and yet the torches are still lit. People are still beating upon their chest and trying to kick in our doors as if they were locked. Given I have never seen anyone ever being turned away, do you really think all this commotion is for us to be more accommodating or could it be they are more interested in you coming out? Are the crowds gathered before the church wanting in like they say, or are they simply waiting for us to close our doors?


Friday, October 17, 2014

God is the Ultimate Reality

Reality as we know it is far too complex for a baby’s brain to comprehend all at once. The learning development of child happens in stages. All those big blocky bright colorful toys are designed to stimulate a newborns mind. Some toys make particular noises while some have certain textures, but they were created for newborns learning to adapt and manipulate their new environment safely. They are building the skills they will need in the real world.
This early stage of learning in only intended to teach a newborn the basics shapes, colors and sounds. As we progress in our learning we tend to gravitate toward more age appropriate tools of learning. The shapes we use become more complex and the sounds we muttered as a baby begin turning into the proper vowels and consonants needed to communicate. Even though we shed all of the newborn things we do not discard the skills we acquire. They just become part of us.
By the time we reach our teen years we are being prepped for our next big steps which would be finishing school finding a job and navigating more meaningful appropriate relationships. As we mature we begin to attain the utmost of responsibilities bringing with us all of those learned skills. Some of the skills we have learned are deliberate lessons, while other skills are picked up with the various ups and downs God will toss our way. We’ll call those life lessons.
What I am finding out in my walk with Jesus is that although all these lessons and skills are necessary for life; if we want to find the Kingdom we are not done learning. No matter our age or understanding we still have some very big steps ahead of us.
A newborn’s mind is incapable of understanding the fullness of our reality but this little fact doesn’t stop us from teaching loving and nurturing a newborn into adulthood and beyond. Likewise our minds are incapable of understanding the fullness of God’s reality all at once. Reading scripture staying connected in prayer is how God is loving and nurturing us into His Kingdom.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

I will not Comply

Parents worldwide work extremely hard to support their families. We put in a decent days work and go home to raise our children. One of the things I have started to notice with my children is there is a difference between following an instruction, as opposed to complying with an instruction. Following an instruction insinuates even if at a subconscious level an understanding of the instruction. While merely complying with an instruction is either a direct or indirect attempt to subvert the intent of said instruction. Scrapping your uneaten dinner into the trash complies with the instruction of clearing your dinner plate before dessert, but it clearly misses why the instruction was given.

A great biblical example of complying with an instruction would be the fellow asking Jesus “well who is my neighbor?”  We are never given the name of this individual but he is clearly looking for the parameters of this commandment so as to go around it. Are we talking next door? Are we talking anyone within a 20 mile radius? Even if he was innocently looking for clarification the question itself shows a misunderstanding of the intent behind the commandment to love thy neighbor as thyself.

Sometimes knowing why we do or don’t do something can make a huge difference. Understanding why we have speed limits doesn’t mean we can speed recklessly when we deem it’s safe, but understanding high speed collisions makes it easier to follow the posted speed limit. Jesus said “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets, I have not come to abolish but to fulfill.” Why? I think there is a huge difference in complying with God and following. The people Jesus was speaking to had lived to comply with the law while completely missing the why or the intent of God’s law.
As the ones our children look to for answers it is important that we do our best to always have an answer, if we’re honest sometimes we don’t have a straight answer for them. We may find ourselves saying because I said so. I don’t know why just do what I ask. We say these things for numerous reasons, but God isn’t limited in knowledge and wisdom like we. While God doesn’t owe any of us an answer to the why He gives an instruction it doesn’t hurt to ask. Jesus never asked for any of His disciples to comply with Him, He asked for people to follow. Why? Because we will always follow what we love, and never love when we are forced to comply.

Monday, October 13, 2014

A+B=C God is Good?

I wonder how many people are willing to believe in God but just cannot get pass an issue of anger. How many people really want to worship God but somehow feel wronged by God? I know reading the bible it can be extremely easy to assume if we live like A +B then C should equal God being good to us. What if that way of thinking is wrong? A closer way to see the same equation would be to say if I act well, then God will be good and the sum of it all is I get a great life. A+B=C God is Good.

Could this be the source of people’s anger toward God? Do people give it the good old college try and just assume that because they have lived up to what they thought God wanted that now they have a gripe against the All Mighty when their lives aren't what they were expecting?

I know a lot of people who aren’t willing to worship God because He did this or this happened to me. While all these may seem like legitimate deal breakers, I am asking if that was ever the deal in the first place. Who promised anyone a sweet life?

I cannot imagine a world where this kind of reasoning would actually work. Everyone is entitled to follow what they think will bring them joy, but that is where we get ourselves into trouble. We all have so many different varying views an opinion to what would constitute a great life. While it may be great for money to never be an issue that would wreak havoc on any monetary driven economy. It may be a desire that you would always be desirable to the opposite sex, what about the other person’s freewill to reject you?    

We all lose people to old age, disease or other unfortunate mishap. Does this mean we are entitled to be grudging God for what appears to be His lack of concern for our hurts and dire needs? Do we have a case against God when who we thought would be the love of our lives suddenly walks out on us?

The truth is A+B doesn’t equal C God is good. Much like 1+2 doesn’t give us the right to go blaming God for all the wrongs in our life. Anger is the mask we wear to shield our eyes to the truth; God is good all the time and all the time God is good. This is hard for me to write or say but there is nothing wrong with being mad at God. He knows your pain; He feels the anger and resentment, all the anger in the world won’t get you to where you want to be. Your anger towards God may end up being the biggest waste of time and effort. I traded my anger toward God and what I got in return was amazing. I don’t see the world through a fictitious pair of rose colored glasses; I know it’s upside down. The sweet life is I follow Jesus as the one who lovingly took my place of the suffering I rightful deserve and He did it because I didn’t know my head from a hole in the ground.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Getting Over Self

Kristin and I were reading Bonhoeffer's Ethics last night.  He identifies the fall of humanity with the eating from the knowledge of good and evil, and therefore the redemption in Christ with the abandonment of the knowledge of good and evil.  He shows that Jesus' instruction that we "Judge Not" is connected to this letting go of the knowledge of good and evil (the source of our fall).  Instead of knowing good and evil, which caused disunion between us and God as well as disunion between each other (thus sin = broken relationship with God and each other) we are called to simply know God.  In knowing God through Christ -- we find union with God and each other.  There is no decision between good and evil, because only one thing is known and that one thing is God--which is why Paul can say that the knowledge of Christ causes all other knowledge to fade away--only that one thing is important.  The punchline of this is the call for the Christian to be good without knowing they are good.  To know we are good is to acknowledge another possibility; which leads us to disunion from the one thing we are invited to know.

We have been focusing on characters of scripture through the past several weeks, and I have been again impressed at how unimpressive the most impressive heroes are.  When we tell stories, we quite often emphasize the strengths of characters.  When there are character flaws, such flaws must be overcome.  But it is not so in scripture.  Flaws have consequences, flaws are exposed, occasionally a flaw is overcome--but the emphasis is almost never on individual conquest, but God's faithfulness to use a person despite, and even because of their shortcomings (real or perceived).

The witness of scripture is clear--the one thing that matters is the goodness of God.  In Christ we are invited to know God; but not to know and therefore judge between good and evil.  We are like children with an undeveloped self-identity.  We are loved by our parent, and invited into a loving relationship with our parent.  Everything else fades in importance to that relationship.  We are not expected to sort out all the problems of our siblings--for they too are loved by our parent.  When is the last time you allowed your self to get lost in the love of God.  Do you find a self-help culture to helpful or does such reflection drive a wedge between us and God?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Trust and Obey

His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” John 2:5 NIV

Do you remember the story of the wedding at Cana where they were running out of wine? Mary told the servants to do what Jesus told them, and Jesus solved the problem by turning six large stone jugs of water into wine.

Like the servants at the wedding, we too should listen to Jesus and obey.

One time I was at a special church service. During the service, there was a call for a special mission project that the whole NJ Conference was supporting. The speaker touched my heart, and I sat in my pew praying as the offering plates were passed.

Something--or someone--spoke to me, telling me to give as much as I could, and so when the offering plate got to me I emptied my wallet into it.

I believe that was Jesus speaking to me, and I did what He told me, giving everything I had. It wasn't really that much of a hardship for me. Later that day I found an ATM and refilled my wallet.

But the point is, Jesus told me what to do, and I did it.

Does Jesus speak to you? How do you know it's Jesus? Do you do whatever he tells you?

Monday, September 8, 2014

How welcoming are you?

I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Matthew 25:35 

A relative of mine is not a regular attender of worship, even though she makes a generous donation to her Lutheran church every year. I asked her why she didn't go to church more often, and here's what she said.

"I've tried going to the church service a few times, but nobody at all spoke to me. I felt out of place, as if nobody cared whether I was there or not. So I didn't go back."

How sad.

One thing I've noticed about our church is that we're very welcoming. If someone new comes, most times they receive a smile and a welcome along with their bulletin from the greeter at the door. We have visitor packets that we pass out with information about the church and a pen, and we ask them to fill out a blue card with their information.

When worship is over, I've often seen members of our congregation go to strangers and introduce themselves, welcoming the visitors to St. Paul's. We invite them to come downstairs for fellowship, and let them know if there are any special events coming up.

How welcoming are you?

Here's a challenge. Next time you go to church and see someone you don't know sitting nearby, make a point of going over and introducing yourself. Find out their names and why they're at St. Paul's, and invite them down for coffee and refreshments. And if they accept, be sure to follow up and make sure they're introduced to other people and have someone to sit with.

Remember, Jesus said, "When you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me." Matthew 25:40 CEB

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Prayer to Accept the Present Moment

O My God,

When I look into the future, I am frightened,
But why plunge into the future?
Only the present moment is precious to me,
As the future may never enter my soul at all.

It is no longer in my power to change, correct or add to the past;
For neither sages nor prophets could do that.
And so what the past has embraced I must entrust to God.

O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire.
I desire to use you as best I can.
And although I am weak and small,
You grant me the grace of Your omnipotence.

And so, trusting in Your mercy,
I walk through life like a little child,
Offering You each day this heart
Burning with love for Your greater Glory.

— From the Diary of St. Faustina: Divine Mercy in My Soul, Notebook 1 (1)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Wrestling With Identity in a Changing World

Below is a reflection I wrote on a sermon at the 2008 GNJ Annual Conference.  I was reading some my my old material and thought I would share this here for continued reflection:

On Saturday Morning of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference (2008), the guest preacher, Rev. Dr. Janet Forbes preached an eloquent, enjoyable, and thought provoking sermon on the need for the church to adapt to the changing cultural landscape. Describing herself as a "postmodern" she went on to describe postmodernity as the current era in which we live--a response to "modernity" leading to a new era which she estimated would begin around 2020 (she named this era, but I don't recall the name she used).

She showed modernity to be a struggle between conservative and liberal, both of which rested on a core precept of modernity--that right belief is important and truth can be known. Likewise she showed postmodernity to be a cultural phenomenon in which authority is questioned, and truth is obscure and unimportant. In postmodernity, there is much access to knowledge and many claims to truth, but what is important is right actions. (I am sure I am not doing justice to her sermon, but this was the gist of a small portion of the sermon).

The call in the end was for the church to become postmodern in its ways -- a speaking the language of the new culture; a kind of modern (or postmodern?) Pentecost.

As I reflected on the sermon, a few things struck me. The first was that Christianity is ultimately a claim to a particular truth. What would it mean to preach the gospel (a truth-claim) in a postmodern way?  The second was that by the time the church could effectively make such a conversion, we will be into the beginning of the next era and we will be trying to shed our postmodern ways. A final reflection was that projecting postmodernity as a path the church needed to travel runs against the postmodern assertion that there are many claims to truth none of which may be valid. The claim for a need to become postmodern is in itself a truth-claim that could be questioned by a true postmodern.

Often the least desirable moments in church history have been times that we have too closely reflected the cultural moves of the day. We can explain dark and gory depictions of Christianity with the mid-ages. The corruption of church leadership that led to a need for reformation was a time the church too closely resembled the feudal system in Europe. During the early/mid 20th century in America, Christianity became so entwined with American patriotism that it has become difficult for some to distinguish between the two. In short, perhaps the church is at its best when it doesn't worry about adapting to the ebb and flow of the surrounding culture. That isn't to say that the church doesn't engage culture, or that there is no overlap. Only that I don't know that we should be constantly trying to "catch up" only to find ourselves always behind a changing world and increasingly confused about our own identity. 

Perhaps postmoderns are disillusioned by the church's claim to truth in part because we have become cloudy about what that claim is as we have tried to keep up with previous shifts in culture. The enduring 2000 year old story never ceases to be relevant unless we make it irrelevant by devaluing it every time there is a cultural shift.

I'd be interested to hear about your experiences of living the Christian life in constantly shifting culture.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Next Biblical Flood

I watched a video today that really gave me pause. It wasn’t over the top loud or obnoxious considering how the video was original posted. It was about three minutes long and consisted of an open air preacher being asked to stop preaching because he was making people mad or angry. The internet is full of open air preachers making complete fools of themselves with their screaming and shouting, but that doesn’t appear to be the case in this video. No, what gave me pause was he was being asked to stop by another Christian.
The woman asking the preacher to stop preaching does make some really good points. When teaching or preaching openly we as Christians should be mindful how we are affecting those around us. We don’t always need to start a riot to be effective in spreading the good news. If it were the case that this preacher were shouting and screaming fire and brimstone there wouldn’t be a question, we cannot do that. However, the only person stirring up any commotion was the woman.

Jesus calls upon us to be points of light in a dark world. While demonstrating our love for God by how we live is a good start, there is nothing wrong with responsibly sharing the good news openly. In fact Mark 16:15 states we should proclaim the good news to all of creation.

Wakening a heart that is suffering from spiritual rigamortis will cause some discomfort or even occasional confrontation; does that mean we should just be silent? The crowds Jesus preached to rejected his message time and time again.  If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. John 15:18.
While we should not ride into town on our white horses throwing bibles and inciting riots with the good news; watering down the Gospel as to spare peoples’ feelings only makes us wishy, washy Christians.  


Monday, August 18, 2014

Wrestling with Scripture: Shut Up, Ladies!

Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 1 Corinthians 14:34 NIV

There are some things in scripture that bother me. The above is one of them.

Some feminists label St. Paul as a woman hater. I don't think that is necessarily true, but his writings have been used for millenia to keep women in a secondary position in the church. Even today many churches will not permit women in the pulpit because of St. Paul's directive.

And this isn't just an isolated instruction. Paul repeats it in 1 Timothy 2:10-12.

So what's up with that? Obviously the United Methodist Church doesn't follow that specific instruction, since we allow women pastors. One of our most beloved pastors in recent years was a woman.

There are several possible reasons that have been presented by various commentators and writers.

1. We must look at scripture in context. That scripture was written to a specific group of people in a specific time in a specific situation. It may not have been meant to apply to everyone everywhere forever.

2. The scripture may not even be original words of St. Paul. There are sources that make the case that those words were added later.

3. The scripture might even have been mis-translated. The original Greek word used, in that particular context meant "wife" rather than "woman" and again, may not have been meant to apply to all.

The above are possibilities, but the main reason we, and many other churches, permit ordination of women is because we believe that particular scripture is superseded by other scriptures. St. Paul himself stated that in Christ, "There is neither Jew nor Greek; there is neither slave nor free; nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:28 NIV. (Emphasis added.)

Even the Old Testament supports equality of women. When God created human beings, Genesis 1:27 tells us, "God created humanity in God’s own image, in the divine image God created them, male and female God created them." (Emphasis added.)

God intended every single one of us to pray and praise and even preach, using our gifts to God's glory.

I can live with that.

If you're interested in a more in-depth discussion of this topic, click here for a specific United Methodist article. You can also Google it for a myriad of other comments.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Practicing the Sport of Christian Spirituality

As I watch my daughter learning more about the game of soccer, and the nature of games generally; it occurs to me just how many basic things that seem obvious must actually be learned.  For instance small goals and big goals.  The ultimate goal is to win the game.  To so so, you must score goals, and defend your opponent from scoring goals.  Oh yeah--there are opponents, who will try to take the ball away from you--not because they don't like you, but because it is the nature of the game.  now--most of the time you are not actually scoring goals, you have to get in position to be able to score goals, so you must learn to pass--not just anywhere, there are good passes and less good passes--ultimately you must be moving toward your goal, etc.

I like that she is learning soccer, not because I think it is vitally important that she learn soccer.  Rather I love what I anticipate she will learn of competition, goal setting, success, failure, team building and friendship. These permeate all aspects of life, including our Christian life.

GOALS:  For what purpose am I on a spiritual journey?  What do I hope to get out of attending worship, reading scripture, singing hymns, having conversations about God, serving in missions, etc.  I'm not sure many of us ask this question, and we should.  If I invite someone to church-life and they ask, "Why?" what will I say?  To become a better person?  For self-fulfillment?  To find peace?

COMPETITION:  Who or What are my opponents keeping me from the goal?  Often competition can become an excuse--"Katie, get the ball!"  "But if I do, they will try to take it away from me!"  But as we grow, we learn to strive to overcome competition, not to submit to it.

TEAMMATES:  Who are my teammates, and how I am I helping them, and they helping me--not just to get along with one another but to advance toward the goal?

PROGRESS:  How do I measure progress along the way?

If we want to truly be on a journey and not stagnant in our faith, we need to continuously spend time on these questions. When you attend worship, bible study, etc--do you expect and are you looking for moments of life-transformation?  Are we ready to recognize that there may be competition for our hearts, minds, and spirit?  Are we learning to support one another as teammates to achieve the same goal?

I have become convinced that unless we understand the ongoing need for focused growth as Christians, our spirituality flounders and we struggle to understand the purpose of living the Christian life.  I encourage you to name your competitors, and establish strategies to overcome them; stay focused on the goal of life transformation, connection to God, and true love of God and neighbors.  And learn to rely on your teammates who share the same goal.  Let us move forward in our spiritual journey.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Seeking Transformation

A few years ago I worked with a church member who was considering the nature of the church business.  He would say things like, "Really it is a business, isn't it?"  His point was that there is some number crunching.  There is a cost to doing business and there is a need for income to meet that cost.

His point is made more pointedly by the reality that many pastors, myself included, look to business leadership concepts and books on organizational leadership for ideas on how to keep an organization (the church in our case) moving forward. In many ways this is important work, and I value much of what I have learned from such reading.  But there is a pitfall into the church just becoming another business.  For me, the very idea of the church being just another business causes the taste of burnout (Thanks Denise for you post on Burnout) to rise like acid re-flux.
I've been spending some time recalling the purpose of ministry in the church recently.  It isn't a new concept, but I for one need occasional reminders:

Lives being transformed is at the core of what we do.

This is why I went into ministry.  Not only to be a part of lives being transformed, but because my own life continues to be in need of transformation.  The desire for our own transformation and the transformation of our neighbors and  the world around us gives purpose and shape to what we do.

Stephen Foul, in Engaging Scripture, identifies the acknowledgement of a need for transformation as key in being able to read scripture properly.  
If Christians are to read and embody scripture in ways that result in loves lived faithfully before God, they will need to recognize themselves as sinners.  Moreover, they will need to train and form new members so that they, too, can identify themselves in this way.  
 To allow the concept of sinfulness to shape our reading of scripture and Christian experience feels very old-hat; but it is something that is easily forgotten and even rejected as archaic.  But we cannot expect transformation if we do not understand our need for change (trans) or being formed (formation).  We will soon be inviting members of St. Paul's to share stories of transformation in your own life--how is God moving in your life?  What kinds of changes have happened or are happening that are making your more Christ-like, more faithful to God's call on your life, more in tune with your relationship with God?

Monday, August 4, 2014

All Burned Out

“Come to me, all you who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest." Matthew 11:28 CEB.

Burnout: Long-term exhaustion and diminished interest in work or a particular activity. Thought to be caused by stress.

I've had a few times in my life I've suffered from burnout. Here's a recent example from our church's Family Promise ministry. If you aren't familiar with this program, various churches host homeless families overnight in their buildings for a week at a time. We do this four times a year, providing dinner, social time, beds and bedding, and transportation to and from their Day Center.

I used to always help by sleeping overnight at the church with our Family Promise guests. I didn't sleep very well, and was always tired the next day, but hey, it was just one night.

One Family Promise week there weren't enough women overnighters, so I took a second night... in a row. I was so exhausted by the end of that week that I felt down, depressed, withdrawn. I didn't think I wanted to do that anymore. Ever. A classic case of burnout.

A couple months later the next Family Promise week came, and I didn't sign up at all. To do anything. Not provide food, drive the van, spend a fellowship evening, and especially not sleep over. I felt a little guilty, but I just couldn't do it. So I skipped that entire week.

I prayed for God to help me overcome my burnout, and God came through. I was burdened, and as Jesus promised, he gave me rest. After that one skipped session, I went back to helping out with Family Promise, sometimes sleeping over, sometimes helping in another way. All it took was a short break and, of course, plenty of prayer.

This is a very simple example, but I think many of us have occasional episodes of burnout, especially with church activities where we throw our all into it for the Lord. But if we do suffer from burnout, we don't need to quit our activities altogether. Just a break can be enough to get us back on track. At least it was for me. Or maybe switching our efforts from one activity to a different one. Sometimes a change is all it takes.

Have you ever suffered from burnout? How did you handle it? What scripture helped?

Friday, August 1, 2014

Christian Practices: Duty or Gift?

I was at one time extremely active in Boy Scouts.  I began working as a camp counselor the summer I turned 15, and I continued that work in one way or another until I left Indiana to go to seminary.  My last year as a camp counselor, I was the Camp Chaplain.  It is safe to say that Boy Scouts was an important part of my experiencing God's call to ministry.

My job as the chaplain was to help resource kids of all backgrounds to learn how to live out their oath "On my honor, I will do my best to do my duty, to God and my Country..."

In many ways the Boy Scouts of America is a more "moral" institution than Christianity.

Before I am misunderstood--know that this is not necessarily a compliment.

I find that many Christians are under the mistaken impression that we have a certain "duty to God."  The classic image of a boy scout helping an elderly lady cross the street is a picture of doing a good deed. This is basic ethical morality--there are good things we can do and bad things, we ought to choose the good and avoid the bad as much as possible.

It is with this thinking that many of us approach the Christian life:  If I go to church, help at the food bank, serve homeless families at Family Promise, give my tithe, etc., I am doing my duty to God.  A core problem with this is that these things that are "duties" are no longer gifts, but obligations that hang over us.  Instead of giving us life, such obligations such life away.  "I would go to church, but I am just too tired, too busy, too sad, too angry, etc."  When we consider prayer-life as a moral obligation (our duty to God), we tend to think thoughts like, "I have so much to do, I just can't get in my prayer-time."

Martin Luther, who saw the emphasis of Grace throughout scripture, is attributed with having said, "I have so much to do that if I didn't spend at least three hours a day in prayer I would never get it all done."  In Christ, we are not called to fulfill obligations--we are given the gift and power of a relationship with God.  I do not encourage the people I serve to worship regularly, and commit to serve in ministry because it is necessary for them to be complete in fulfilling their Christian duty--rather it is a gift into which all of us are invited.  How do you experience Christian practices to be grace instead of a duty?

Monday, July 28, 2014

When We All Get to Heaven

Heaven is for real. I know that in my heart, as well as believing Colton's story of visiting heaven while undergoing emergency surgery.

In "The Book of Hope" by Rev. Dave Bailey, I found the following poem about heaven. It made me laugh, and I hope it makes you laugh, too.

Heaven's Surprise
By Rod Hemphill

I was shocked, confused, bewildered as I entered Heaven's door,
Not by the beauty of it all, nor the lights or its decor.

But it was the folks in Heaven who made me sputter and gasp--
The thieves, the liars, the sinners, the alcoholics and the trash.

There stood the kid from seventh grade who swiped my lunch money twice.
Next to him was my old neighbor who never said anything nice.

Herb, who I always thought was rotting away in hell,
Was sitting pretty on cloud nine, looking incredibly well.

I nudged Jesus, "What's the deal? I would love to hear your take.
How'd all these sinners get up here? God must've made a mistake.

"And why's everyone so quiet, so somber - give me a clue."
"Hush, child," He said, "they're all in shock. No one thought they'd be seeing you."

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Know the Direction, Be Surprised by the Destination

The first time we took the Kate to a Zoo. she was very young and wanted to know what it was going to be like.  "Will there be lions there?"  "I don't know, I've never been to this zoo before."  "Will the animals be just walking around where we can pet them?"  "No, most of the animals will not be walking around where you can pet them."  "How do you know?  You've never been to this zoo before."

A basic self-leadership principle is that a person cannot lead others to a place they have never been.  It is a healthy reminder that in order to lead others, we have to be going somewhere.  If I am to lead the people of our church in nurturing a relationship with God, I must be nurturing my own relationship with God, etc.

There is much truth to that principle, however, this image of leading people only to where we have already been misses the divine nature of the journey we are on.  When Moses led the people out of Egypt and toward the promised land, he didn't know where he was going.  They seem to have been wondering in the wilderness, walking circles in the dessert.  In the end, Moses gets them to the edge of the promise land.  He sees the land but never steps foot in it (Deut. 34: 1-4).  In essence, Moses led the people to a place where he had never been.  How does he do this?  He walks with God and brings the people along with him.  He does not know where he is going, but he knows what the next steps are, because God reveals those steps along the way.  At the beginning of the journey, Moses was concerned that he would not be able to convince Pharaoh to release the people, nor be able to convince the people to follow him into unknown territory.  "Moses said to the Lord, 'My Lord, I've never been able to speak well, not yesterday, not the day before, and certainly not now since you've been talking to your servant.  I have a slow mouth and a thick tongue" (Ex. 4:10).  God retorted, "I'll help both of you [Moses and Aaron] speak, and I'll teach both of you what to do..." (Ex. 4:15).

Jesus echoed this sentiment when preparing the disciples for ministry in response to persecution once he was no longer among them in the flesh: "Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance. I'll give you the words and wisdom that non of your opponents will be able to contradict." (Luke 21: 14-15)

Sometimes trying to get a sense of how everything is going to work out in the end paralyzes us from being able to take the next steps in faith.  Our journey is by it's very nature one step at a time.  None of us can know exactly where we are headed, only whether or not we are headed in the right direction. How do you know when you are on the right path?  Do you have God-sized expectations about where Christ will lead?

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Power of God

Look at the evening sky!
    Who created the stars?
Who gave them each a name?
    Who leads them like an army?
The Lord is so powerful
  that none of the stars
    are ever missing.

Isaiah 40:26 CEB

We had a lovely sunset last night here in South Jersey. And the reason I saw that sunset was because I went to our "Worship on the River" evening service.

"The Lord is so powerful that none of the stars are ever missing..." Often, in the hubbub and worries of everyday life, I forget about God's great power. I try to rely on myself rather than trusting in the Lord.

So from now on, every time I see a beautiful sunset, or stars shining in the night sky, I will try to remember and rely on God's power to ease my mind.

How about you? What helps you remember to trust in the power of the Lord?

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Three Year Olds and Obedience

I've learned a lot about God through being a mom.  Katie Davis, a missionary in Uganda who adopted fourteen girls, writes this about her little 3 year old daughter Grace, and it sums up one of those lessons really well:

"I don't exactly remember when it started.  One day, Grace simply would not get into the bathtub.  So I didn't make her.  I let her get in bed dirty that night.  The fight just wasn't worth interrupting everyone else's bedtime.  But on the second night, I couldn't ignore her again.  She really needed that bath. 

So we began the struggle, and it continues to this day.  Night after night, we go through the same motions. The scene unfolds like this:  I ask Grace to get into the bathtub, to which she quietly replies, "I don't want."  I, in my kindest, sweetest Mommy voice, explain to her that she is three years old, that she doesn't always know what is best for her, and that she does not always get what she wants...  She simply looks at me, not understanding at all what I am trying to say. 

Not to be deterred, I try a different approach, saying excitedly, "Come on, Gracie! Let's go play in the bathtub!"  At this point she blinks her eyes very fast, ad big crocodile tears begin to run down her cheeks, another plea for sympathy.  When she sees that her tears are not getting her anywhere, she begins to shriek, "No bath, no bath, no bath!"  as if the water would melt her. 

I say it more sternly the next time.  "Grace.  Bath time."  I then lift her feet and practically drag her down the hall to the bathroom.  her sorrow turn to anger.  She makes her best, "I don't like you, Mom" face, folds her arms, and plots to her bottom.  "I don't want!" she shouts.  So I pick her up.  She kicks and screams, and eventually I get her into the bathtub.  She flails around in ther for a bit, letting me know with her wails that I am ruining her life and she may never be happy again.

And then, a funny thing happens.  As she splashes water on herself, she remembers: She likes the bath!  The bath is fun.  Not to mention a really great way to get clean.  By the end of the scenario, Grace usually enjoys her bath so much she doesn't want to get out of the tub.

The bath time struggle never is about the bath at all.  It is about obedience.  Grace is 3 years old and she simply does not want to obey.  She thinks she should be the one to decide whether she gets in the tub or not.  She is 3 years old, and she is trying to figure out just how much control she has in her little life.  At this point, not much...

The reality is, little disobedient Grace reminds me so much of myself.  I shudder to think what I could have missed in life because of my disobedience.  I am so thankful that God in His grace does not allow me to win.  Because usually, the fight is not really about what He is asking me to do.  It is not about the bathtub.  It is about me, trying to figure out just how much control I have over my little life.  At this point, not much..."

- Katie Davis, Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption (New York: Howard Books, 2011) 225-226.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Thou shalt not... complain?

Do everything without complaining or arguing. Then you will be blameless and innocent. You will be God’s children without any faults among people who are crooked and corrupt. You will shine like stars among them in the world.... Philippians 2:14-15 GW

Another Facebook meme got me to thinking. As many of you know, my mom passed away in May at the age of 97 and a half. Can't forget that half, as she reminded us just the week before she died.

One of the unfortunate memories I carry of Mom from her last few years was the fact that she was always complaining. Nothing was ever up to her standards... her care at the three assisted living homes, yes, three because we kept moving her to try to make her happy; the healthcare associates, the food, her doctor, her apartment... you name it and she'd have a complaint about it. Or two or three. Even when we brought her flowers, she'd study the bouquet and find something wrong with it.

Luckily I have some good memories of Mom to help me forget the complaints... how she took such good care of herself right up until the end, how grateful she was for the small things my sister and I did for her, how generous she was to us.

But like Mom, I'm prone to complaining. Maybe it's in the genes.

Today, thinking about Mom's last years, I pray that I can follow Paul's direction in his letter to the Philippians. "Do everything without complaining or arguing...."

That's a tough one. Maybe I should get it tattooed on my arm so I can read it every day as I get older.

What do you think?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Something is Wrong

Something is Wrong part one

From my early stages of coming back to God and asking Him back into my heart there has been this theme constantly running in the back of mind. “Something is wrong!” There was a reason I left the church at a young age, something is wrong, I look around and I see churches dying left and right, something is wrong. You can’t watch ten minutes of television without hearing a sexual innuendo, or a slam on Christianity, something is wrong.  

Having this theme running in my mind may seem at first very pessimistic or unhealthy but I have found it to be quite the opposite. The way it plays out in mind is something is wrong, now let’s fix it. Taking a car into be serviced by a mechanic because something is wrong, the first thing he or she is going to do is find the problem.   Going under the hood all willy-nilly with a wrench replacing parts left and right might fix the problem temporally but chances are you will be back probably worse off than you started.

Having this theme running in my mind also helps to prevent me from playing church. If I am going through a struggle with the family or I am having an unresolved conflict at work it doesn’t do me any good to just offer a simple prayer and wash my hands of the matter while leaving God to do all the cleanup. Being active with God at my side teaches me where I went wrong. It straightens my walk and strengthens my faith. If I were having an issue with my temper, can you see God cleaning up my mess while leaving a card saying its ok he’s with me? I don’t think so. We can’t control our struggles or strives when they pop up but we can control how we respond to them. If I cannot respond with the love of Jesus I want to know why. Something is wrong, now let’s fix it.

To be continued

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Testimonies of the 'Saints'

An aspect of being a pastor that I appreciate most is hearing people's faith stories.  Sometimes in the midst of being a pastor, I can become distracted from what exactly we are doing.  From a trustee meeting where we discuss plumbing issues, to a church council meeting where we discuss the next big project or ministry initiative to a Bible study to explain the Word of God, it is possible to forget that what we are all really doing is living our lives, seeking God in the midst of them, and discerning what it means to live our lives for God.  

To that end, there is nothing better than someone sharing how they came to know God, how God called them toward a particular ministry, where they see God at work in their family, or in their jobs.  It is a reminder that God is in fact working in the lives of those around us.

Lillian Daniel writes: 
Many people struggle with testimony.  We don't want  to shove our faith down people's throats.  We don't want to be pushy, obnoxious, or self-righteous....  [But] testimony is calling out that you have seen light in the midst of darkness.  Testimony is telling the story about how you met God, even when you have forgotten it.  (When Spiritual, But Not Religious is not Enough, p. 21).
Telling our God-stories is important because it helps all of us remember, and reconnect to God and one another.  Behind everything is a story.  If this week's message really hit home for you, you probably have a story to tell about why.  If, rather, the message was a struggle for you, rubbed you the wrong way, there is likely a story about that.  Whether you are "on fire" or exhausted, inspired or flat--there is almost always a life story about why, and God is involved.  Sharing such stories and testimonies of experiencing God in the midst of life is among the greatest gifts we can offer one another.  In this way we inspire one another to continue along the path that leads to life.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Changing a Nation

Pastor Nakov in Macedonia attended a conference in 2013 in Turkey. His heart ached when he saw many mosques in contrast with early Christian ruins. He wondered "Why is Islam flourishing?" and "What happened to the gospel witness?"

He returned home and during the night he sensed the Holy Spirit's presence. The Spirit asked him piercing questions that showed him he was not praying much, nor was his church. He was ashamed and convicted. He saw that the Imams were rising to pray earlier that he was.

He wept as he saw just how much they were playing church, and he asked God to change him.

The next Sunday he issued a call to prayer. They started with just one or two, then six. Finally about half the church responded. They were praying corporately and God was responding. Then pastors began praying together.

Now they are seeing answers as they pray not only for their own church but also for their nation to be in unity with others in the Balkans. Last year the Serbian president publicly asked for forgiveness for Serbia's past violence and bloodshed. Bulgarian officials have asked for forgiveness from its citizens of Turkish nationality who were expelled from their homes decades earlier.

"All of Europe needs to come before God and repent for the preaching of a cheap gospel that does not change lives; it is no gospel," said Pastor Nakov. "We in the Church must repent, ask forgiveness, and experience reconciliation. We now want only God's presence and His power to flow in us and through us."*

One pastor who asked God to change his own prayer life and who called his church to corporate prayer is changing his nation! God works when one leader obeys!  God is still looking for just one person who will take the lead.

Dear Jesus, please allow leaders to see their potential influence to turn our nation back to You.

"Go up and down the streets of Jerusalem, look around and consider, search through her squares. If you can find but one person who deals honestly and seeks the truth, I will forgive this city" (Jer. 5:1).
- from Come to the Fire devotions by Aletha Hinthorn

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Urgent Call to Prayer

Anne Graham Lotz, the daughter of Billy Graham, usually has a full schedule of speaking arrangements across the country.  However, when her husband became ill, she took time to stop and just care for him.  It was in this period that she suddenly had more time just to sit and listen to the whispers of God's Spirit.  And as she listened, she heard God calling her to call our nation to prayer, because the time of judgment is coming.  Like in the book of Joel:  "Blow the trumpet... sound the alarm...  For the day of the Lord is coming, it is close at hand.  Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord..."

It is tempting when we read the warnings in Scripture to think of them as not applying to us or our country.  As if that is somehow unpatriotic.  But that is obviously silly.  God cared about how nations treated other nations and the poor within their own nation back then, but we are the United States.  We have permission to do whatever we want and God will bless it???  When I was reading Amos last winter, I was strongly convicted by the reality that a number of the clothes we wear were made by children in atrocious work environments overseas so that we can have more, more, more.  Whenever we turn on the television, ads and shows confront the audience with images and ideas that blatantly and intentionally try to stir up all kinds of greed, envy, and lust, and God has strong words to say about those things throughout Scripture. 

It is tempting to feel stuck.  What can I, just one small person, do about where the clothes available to me are made?  What can just one small person do about the culture that so blatantly disregards God and just doesn't care.

I can do what Scripture says for that one person to do: repent of my sins and repent on behalf of my nation.  

Anne is calling for our nation to do just that through the month of July.  As a part of this, she is organizing as many people as who will participate to fast for 7 hours (of the person's choice) on July 7.  In Scripture, when even just a few persons repent, God notices and hears.  She also has daily prayers of repentance to pray available everyday through July 7 here:


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Insane Sanity of Christianity

In setting up his explanation for how he came to an orthodox faith in God, GK Chesterton describes the "materialist" who relies ultimately on logic as a "madman."  For instance, Chesterton argues that a mad person might claim to be God--and the way one would work with such a person is not to deny that they are God but to point out that if they are indeed the creator of the universe, then what a small and insignificant universe it must be. Similarly, Chesterton argues that a non-believer who demands all truth claims meet the rule of logic, limits truth possibilities to a small circle. The basic argument is that Christian spirituality is more creative, less limited, and therefore more "sane" than materialistic rationality.  He writes:
Spiritual doctrines do not actually limit the mind as do materialistic denials. Even if I believe in immortality I need not think about it. But if I disbelieve in immortality I must not think about it. In the first case the road is open and I can go as far as I like, but in the second, the road is shut.
Chesterton's argument is not that the rational skeptic is not rational--rather rational skepticism is infinitely rational, it just happens to be a small and limited infinity. "Their position is quite reasonable, nay, it is infinitely reasonable, just as a three-penny is infinitely circular... [it is] a base and slavish eternity." 

All this is to set up what I believe to be the best use of the image of the cross that I have ever encountered:
For the circle is perfect and infinite in its nature; but it is fixed forever in its size; it can never be larger or smaller. But the cross, though it has at its heart a collision and a contradiction, can extend its four arms forever without altering its shape. Because it has a paradox at its center, it can grow without changing.
This image of the cross having a collision and paradox at its center is why we can know things to be true that may not fit our limited reason. Like, "The one who loses their life for my sake will find it."  This is not a rational statement, but in the cross it makes sense. Which is true: that God is sovereign over all and knows everything before it happens, or that God has given humans free will?  They are both true. Sure it is paradoxical but it works when our reasoning is not circular, but based in the cross. Do we seek righteousness or surround ourselves with sinners?  Both!  Are we holy or imperfect? Both!  Does God judge whether or not we are faithful, or is God's approach merciful?  Both!  Christianity makes the most sense when we allow for paradox, when we don't try to reshape the cross into a small circular logic.

"The morbid logician seeks to make everything lucid, and succeeds in making everything mysterious. The mystic allows one thing to be mysterious, and everything becomes lucid." (GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Discerning Reality

During seminary, Fr. Emmanuel Katongole, taught a course on the role of Christianity during the 1994 Rwanda genocide.  We studied the history of the conflict, the influence of colonial missionaries, and the establishment of Hutu and Tutsi “people groups.”  He led us in an interesting discussion about the nature of “reality.”

The natural initial assumption with regard to a conflict between two groups is that the nature of that conflict must be identified and dealt with—there must be some acknowledgement of “reality.”  So if there is a conflict between Hutu and Tutsi people, we ignore that there must be some real differences to work out.  And yet in this case, the classification of these people groups was a construct of Belgian colonialists, who differentiated the people based on things like measurements of their nose.  Is there a real difference between the two groups?  What if we broaden the scope to other cultural and nationalistic differences—are any of those “real?”  Or is Paul correct in asserting that in Christ there are no more distinctions between man or woman, slave or free, Jew or Gentile etc. (Galatians 3: 28)

I am reminded of this every time I am tempted to approach ministry and life while remaining grounded in “reality.”  If we ask ourselves what is realistically possible, then we cannot be quick to assume what realistic means.  We gather as a community that celebrates victory over death through resurrection.  Death is no longer our reality.  We tell the stories of Jesus breaking a few loaves and fish to feed thousands.  Scarcity is no longer a reality.  Jesus ended the storm by telling it to calm down; better than a wound up child, the storm listened and ceased.  In this reality, power and authority are not lacking.

For this reason I am slow to accept pessimistic measures of the future of Christianity, given our present cultural “realities”.  I don’t give into those who offer pessimistic views of the degree to which people’s lives can "really" be transformed.  After all, what is real? How does Christ change reality for you in your life and in your ministry?

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Praying for Love Ones

When Marion Price discovered that E. M. Bounds, the famous author of nine books on prayer, was buried less than three hours from where he lived, he determined to visit that cemetery. But when he visited the cemetery in Washington, Georgia, he could not find Bounds' resting place.

As a last resort he searched the telephone directory, and found an Osborne M. Bounds, Sr. listed. A young lady answered the phone, and he asked if Osborne Bounds might possibly be a distant relative of E. M. Bounds.

"Yes, Osborne is his son. He is 84 years old, and I am his granddaughter," she said. She invited him to visit her grandfather saying he would be delighted to see him.

Osborne was a thin, frail, white-haired gentleman. In a few minutes, Osborne's 81-year-old sister, Mary, joined them. Mary offered to take him to the cemetery, but before they left, Marion Price felt a strong impulse to ask Osborne Bounds about his spiritual condition.

"Mr. Bounds, are you a saved man?"

Osborne dropped his head, and in a few moments said meekly, "Oh, I don't know. I hope so, but I'm not sure."

Mary interrupted, "Why Oz is one of the best men in the county...You won't find a better man anywhere." Immediately she said, "Let me take you to the cemetery.
On the way she told him that her father would rise at four o'clock each morning and pray until breakfast at seven. In his later years, he would rise at three o'clock. He went to bed early before others, and if there were visitors in the house, he would excuse himself by saying something like, "I have an early appointment."

As Rev. Price drove home, the Spirit burdened his heart with the thought that neither of these children was saved. He wept for them and contacted 12 ministers asking them to help him pray for these two people.

He began occasionally visiting Osborne, but each time there were people around and he did not feel free to talk with him about the gospel. The last time he visited him, a nurse met him at the door and took him to Osborne's room who was in a hospital bed. This time the two of them were alone, and Rev. Price sensed the presence of the Living Lord. He asked Osborne if he could read the scriptures.
"Certainly. Please do," he replied. Then he shared with him the hopelessness of man without Jesus and that a man must come to God with a repentant heart, confessing his sin, and then by faith receive Him as Lord and Savior.

When he asked Osborne if he thought much about spiritual matters, he replied, "All the time."

"Are you ready to call on the Lord and ask Him to save you?"

Osborne said, "Yes," and began to pray without being coaxed. He confessed his sinful condition and his doubting heart, asking the Lord to forgive him.

"Mr. Bounds, did you mean what you just prayed?"

"Well, I guess I did!" he said with a peaceful smile.

After Osborne's death, his daughter told him, "From the time Daddy talked with you that last time, he had more peace than he had ever had before."

Rev. Price wrote, "God is not limited to my lifetime or yours. Sixty-three years after we die, He can send a simple gospel witness to speak to those for whom we have prayed."

"Whoever comes to me I will never drive away" (John 6:37).

Adapted from an article in Herald of His Coming. Originally found in the booklet Never Quit Praying for Your Loved Ones by Marion H. Price, Sr.
- by Aletha Hinthorn's Fireseeker devotional emails

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Carrying the burden with Jesus in prayer

Soon after Missionary Amy Carmichael arrived in India, she was distressed because orphan girls were given to Hindu temples to be used as prostitutes. Her heart ached for those girls, so she started an orphanage hoping to rescue them.

The Hindu priests resented her intrusion into their affairs, and soon British businessmen complained to the missionaries that they must stop Amy. When the unsympathetic missionaries told her to quit, Amy went to the priest herself. He was not about to hand the girls over to her.

She went home thinking she would have to forget helping these young prostitutes. Surely it was not to be her burden. But then it seemed she saw Jesus kneeling alone as He knelt long ago weeping under the olive trees.

Would Amy Carmichael share His burden and weep with Jesus?" The only thing that one who cared could do," she wrote, "was to go softly and kneel down beside Him, so that He would not be alone in His sorrow over the little children." God eventually used Amy to rescue hundreds of girl prostitutes from the temples.

A heart God can burden is His priceless gift to us. To receive this gift we put priority on personal communion with Jesus. He longs to share with us what is on His heart. Even now Jesus "always lives to intercede" (Heb. 7:25). Perhaps nothing pleases Christ more than for us to share His passion for others so deeply that we are moved to tears.

Let's regularly ask God to burden our hearts for revival and then indicate our sincere desire for a burden by praying earnestly daily. Jesus will see we are in earnest and reward us with a deepened prayer burden.

"Oh, my dear children! I feel as if I'm going through labor pains for you again, and they will continue until Christ is fully developed in your lives." (Galatians 4:19 NLT).

(from "Fire Seekers," daily devotionals, Aletha Hinthorn)